VIEWPOINT: Ottawa needs stricter waste diversion rules — now

By Cassandra Plourde 

Do you use your green bin? If not, what’s holding you back?

On March 28, city council voted 19-3 to allow plastic bags and dog waste in green bins starting in the summer of 2019.

The City of Ottawa will expand the Orgaworld green bin contract by $626,000 annually to include bagged dog poop and plastic bags in the curb-side pickup program.

Plastic bags, which are neither recyclable nor organic waste, will then be removed from the stream of compostable waste and sent to the landfill.

But doesn’t allowing a non-organic material to be included in the green bin defeat the purpose of the green bin itself?

The city believes allowing plastic bags will encourage more residents to use the green bin by reducing the so-called “yuck factor” of emptying dog poop from the bags into the compost.

Orgaworld’s 20-year contract, which began in 2010, costs roughly $9 million annually for organics removal service.

The new contract, however, would cost taxpayers $9.8 million per year, factoring in costs related to the extended life of the city’s Trail Road landfill by diverting dog waste.

The estimated cost to taxpayers has been translated to an extra 15 cents per month, per household, and Orgaworld will also spend $9.4 million on facility upgrades for odour mitigation needed for handling dog poop.

Ottawa and Orgaworld reopened the contract after the city recently determined it was paying for the handling of a volume of organic waste it wasn’t really able to provide. The city decided against cancelling the contract, seeing better value in trying to encourage citizens to better utilize their green bins.

But many critics do not agree this was the best course of action.

Councillors who voted against the proposal — including Somerset’s Catherine McKenney — believe allowing plastic bags in green bins send the wrong message about waste diversion.

But city staff said they want to get as many residents as possible to use their green bins, even if that means letting them throw away some plastics that have to be extracted from the organics subsequently.

Ottawa’s organic waste diversion rate sits at a relatively disappointing 40 per cent, and the city would like to boost it.

However, it’s ultimately up to community members to do their part in properly diverting their own waste.

As our civic leaders have done since the beginning of the green bin program, they are continuing to plead with residents to do the right thing.

Although the city has good intentions in this case, allowing plastic bags in green bins will not drastically increase Ottawa’s waste diversion rates.

The city is not expecting a huge increase in organics recycling with the new plastic bag policy, estimating an additional diversion of approximately 5,000 to 6,000 tonnes of organic waste per year.

Unfortunately, after eight years of green bin education campaigns, Ottawa residents still send more than half of their organic waste — the stuff that that should be put in the green bin — to the city dump.

According to Waste Watch Ottawa, a local monitoring group, Ottawa diverted 42.5 per cent of its residential waste in 2015. The provincial average is 47.7 per cent, with Ontario’s best performers diverting more than 60 per cent.

In short, Ottawa is lagging behind other Canadian cities when it comes to diverting waste from landfills, and it needs to step up its game.

What’s even more worrisome is that the Trail Road Landfill only has 25 years left. It costs about $250 million to establish a new dump, and locating the next one in the City of Ottawa will be incredibly controversial.

If being able to use plastic bags in your green bin isn’t enough to get you to divert your waste, maybe this will add motivation: Isn’t it better to compost a bit more than to have a new landfill opened in your neighbourhood?

Council will debate other methods of boosting waste diversion after the next election. Those could include using clear plastic bags to help waste collectors police residential garbage, or limiting the number of bags allowed at the curb.

Clearly, allowing plastic bags in green bins is not enough. Ottawa needs stricter waste diversion rules, and we need them now.